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Japanese Animal-Wife Tales

Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition

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Fumihiko Kobayashi

A familiar, beloved, and yet misunderstood character in the Japanese folktale tradition is the animal-woman, an earthly animal that assumes the form of a female human. In order to articulate the characteristics that make Japanese Animal-Wife tales unique, this trailblazing book Japanese Animal-Wife Tales: Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition challenges long-held characterizations of them in folklore scholarship. By re-examining the gender-specific behaviors of both the animal-woman and her human spouse, the book recovers the sociocultural and historical contexts that underlay their behaviors to demonstrate the actual gender characteristics that shaped the original Japanese Animal-Wife tales, highlighting the assertive, rather than naïve, personality of women in early Japanese folktale tradition. This new approach to the study of Japanese folktales and culture will interest researchers and students in a variety of fields, including Japanese studies, comparative folklore studies, culture studies, Asian studies, and anthropology.
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Appendix VI: Marriage Customs in Ancient and Premodern Japan

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As already discussed in Chapter Three, it is difficult to prove how much people obeyed the principle “Gentlemen First and Ladies Second” in their daily lives in ancient and premodern Japan and, moreover, how they initiated sexual relationships, at the time folklorists were gathering folktales in early-twentieth-century Japan. Some works on marriage customs in ancient and premodern Japan indicate that marriage norms based on “uxorical marriage custom” were popular and widely carried out among aristocrats and ordinary people before the rise of the samurai class politically and militarily in Japan around the late twelfth century. Here, a man first approaches a woman and proposes a connubial relationship. After she accepts him, he frequents her and sometimes lives with her for the short term, but not permanently, at her parents’ house. While, at the same time, he freely visits other women and stays their parents’ houses, too, she has a right to refuse his coming and staying at her place. The uxorical marriage custom does not altogether conform to any meanings of marriage law that the Japanese government has enacted since the end of nineteenth century.

Around the end of the twelfth century when the samurai class politically and culturally dominated Japan, “virilocal marriage custom” gradually permeated the samurai class in particular. The virilocal marriage custom dictates that a married woman must live in her husband’s house with his parents. She does not have any right to refuse him even though he has a right to marry...

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